Monday, 28 April 2008

How To Go To John o’ Groats And Back In A Day (With A Detour Via Ullapool)

Get up really early in the morning

Alien Wally and Mags usually sleep in late on Saturday mornings. And Sunday mornings. And even sometimes during the week, when the snooze button can be pushed to the limit and then some.

But, on Going-On-Holiday Day, there is no snoozing. Places to go and people to see means that Alien Wally and Mags can overcome their natural slothness and actually jump out of bed at 04:00. Okay, so jump out of bed may be a bit of an exaggeration. More like an ooze and a stumble and a crawl and a yawn or three or ten. But up they did get, beating the sun, and they were out the door by 04:30.

Live in a small country

Scotland may be the best small country in the world, but by definition it is therefore a Small Country. Which means that Alien Wally and Mags can leave Edinburgh at 04:30 and have breakfast in Inverness at 07:30 and be in John o’ Groats by 11:00 without even breaking any speed limits. The far north of Scotland isn’t so far, after all.

Spend five minutes looking around John o’ Groats itself

Okay, so Alien Wally and Mags had to go there. They’ve been to Lands’ End, and had to see the opposite end of the country. But it turns out that there’s not that much to see. John o’ Groats is a bleak and windy place, fascinating in its bleakness, and yet ultimately kind of boring in its bleakness. Did Mags mention that it’s bleak?

A short distance from John o’ Groats, the natural scenery is a tad more interesting in the form of the Stacks of Duncansby.

And a slightly further distance from John o’ Groats is Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the UK mainland, another bleak place, offering panoramic views of the bleak bog that leads up to it. Driving through the far north and north-east of Scotland feels like driving through a world leached of its colour.

Drive round the north west of Scotland and down to Ullapool

The scenery around the north-west of Scotland starts to get a bit more interesting – snow covered mountains, sparkling lochs and greenery. Luckily Mags doesn’t get car sick, otherwise Alien Wally’s joyful driving around the many twists and turns of the single-track road may not have been so joyful after all.

Eventually the road leads down to Ullapool, a stunningly pretty town on the banks of Loch Broom. Ullapool is the gateway for ferries to many of the western isles, and Alien Wally and Mags marveled at the size of the boat that was just starting on its journey to Stornoway. The Lord of the Isles that took them to Mull paled in comparison!

Then… Have some Neds break into your flat

Yes, folks. Crime happens in Scotland too. Alien Wally and Mags had just settled into a pub in Ullapool when they got The Call. Luckily (or unluckily, if Alien Wally’s glum expression was anything to go by), Alien Wally had only had two sips of his pint, so he was able to drive back to Edinburgh. Mags, on the other hand, decided that some alcohol-induced courage was required to deal with the situation, and downed her vodka orange.

After explaining the situation to the guest house owner, who very kindly refused to take any payment for the room, Alien Wally and Mags were back in the car and heading for home. Although it had taken them the full day to get to Ullapool, given their detour via the north of Scotland, Ullapool is in fact only an hour’s drive from Inverness and so they were able to get home by 22:30 that night… not planned, yet proof that one can go to John o’ Groats and back in a day!

Postscript: The amazing bouncable PS3!

Alien Wally and Mags’ next door neighbour is usually a quietish lad. However, last Saturday, faced with two teenage boys breaking into Alien Wally and Mags’ flat, he found his inner beserker and beset upon the two young Neds with a golf club. Unfortunately, the teenaged criminals got away, taking only the PS3 with them as they scarpered. In their haste to escape the Avenging Neighbour, they dropped the PS3 as they fled over the fence, causing it to fall approximately three metres as it bypassed ground level and landed in the lower ground level parking lot. It bounced, and then all was still. The police carefully bagged it up and returned it to Alien Wally and Mags later that night.

After the PS3 was dusted for prints the next morning, Alien Wally tentatively plugged it in, expecting the worst. After all, the case looked a bit scronked, and even though the visible damage was mostly at the back where it could be ignored, who knew what had happened to its innards? But it worked. And continues to work. Bet Sony never thought bouncability was a feature!

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